Thinking of building a tiny house? Zoning issues may prevent you from doing that. Many municipalities have minimum square footage requirements for a permanent residence. That is why so many people choose to build their tiny houses on wheels. But what if you want a permanent structure? Before you decide on that perfect piece of land, check with zoning to see if you will run into difficulties.
To wheel or not to wheel
Putting your tiny house on wheels actually adds to the expense. You can purchase a car hauler starting at around $1,500. Another option is to have a trailer specifically built for a tiny house. A new trailer will set you back $5,000. Building on wheels limits the size of your home because you have to comply with DOT regulations. If you want to go larger than 8 feet by 30 feet and you want to build taller than 13.5 feet, you will have to something permanent. A wheeled home makes plumbing and waste disposal more challenging.
There are upsides to building your tiny house on wheels. You eliminate building codes and minimum square footage issues. Once it is on wheels, most municipalities consider the structure an RV. However, some cities and towns have strict regulations about parking RVs and trailers. Others will not allow you to live in one full-time.
What about building tiny without wheels? If you choose property outside of city or county limits, you may have more leeway with building codes. Inside city limits talk to the zoning commission and show them a well designed house plan. If you explain what you are doing and why, and the outside of the structure will be attractive and not look like a shed, they may grant you a variance. It may help to use an architect or tiny home builder to design the home. If the city sees you are working with competent professionals, getting what you want might be a little easier.
If you already have land, it is time to get to know the city council and zoning board. Go to a few meetings and make some new friends. Many times it is easier to get waivers on size requirements and other issues if the people who make those decisions already know who you are.
Square footage issues
The size of your tiny house may determine if you get zoning on your side or not. Micro homes—those under 300 square feet—will have a harder time getting approved for square footage variances. Tiny homes 300 to 500 square feet will have an easier time. If you live in a densely populated city, building a tiny home that is 500 square feet or a little larger may be easier to approve than a micro home on wheels. Most cities have apartments that are in the 500 square foot range. You can argue that if it is okay for someone to live in a 500 square foot apartment, then they should be able to live in a 500 square foot tiny home.
You might need to live in a certain part of a town or city. For example, Lake Royal in North Carolina allows cottages fewer than 800 square feet to be built on camping lots. You still have to submit a building plan and play by their other rules. They consider it temporary living quarters, so you have to take a vacation for a week or two every year that is away from your property.
Sometimes, getting approval for a micro home means getting together with a group of people and building a tiny house community. Three or four tiny houses on a piece of land, sharing attractive common areas, has the ability to raise property values of the surrounding area. This is especially true in distressed areas of a city. Show the zoning board and planning committee how a tiny house community will bring attractive, affordable housing to the area, and you might end up with grant money to build with.
Be creative and be ready to think outside the box when dealing with city officials. If they say “no” ask them what you need to do to get approval. If you are flexible and easy to work with, you may be able to get your tiny house built in an area where others have failed.